Grambling State enjoyed a drama-free run to Saturday’s SWAC Championship game rematch with Alcorn State.
The G-Men, ranked No. 1 among HBCUs and No. 14 in the FCS, didn’t need any last-second or late-game heroics during the regular season. They outscored opponents by nearly 27 points a game en route to a 9-0 conference record that included a 43-18 win against Alcorn in September, following a season-opening 31-21 non-conference loss to Arizona. But it was a different tale with the SWAC crown on the line. Grambling (10-1) had to dig itself out of 17-0 halftime hole for 27-20 victory at NRG Stadium in Houston in a game that wasn’t decided until the final play.
“We’ve been down before this year,’’ third-year Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs said. “Our kids never stopped believing. I never stopped believing. It was just a matter of everybody checking themselves and making sure we played Grambling football. I thought we did that in the second half.’’
The win was the 10th in a row for Grambling and gives the G-Men a berth in the Celebration Bowl against MEAC champ North Carolina Central on Dec. 17 in Atlanta. Grambling has now won seven SWAC titles in nine appearances in the championship since its inception in 1999 and 25 crowns overall
Grambling running back Martez Carter had his fingerprints all over the victory that avenged the G-Men’s 49-21 loss to the Braves (5-6) in last year’s title game. Carter scored the winning touchdown on a 31-yard run with 3:38 remaining in the contest. He set a SWAC Championship Game record with 348 all-purpose yards – 136 yards, 66 receiving and142 on kickoff returns – and was named Offensive MVP.
Carter jump started Grambling’s comeback by returning the second half kickoff 73 yards to set up the Tigers’ first score, a 29-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Devante Kincade to Verlan Hunter.
Carter was also involved in a bizarre play that resulted in a touchdown that tied the score at 20-20. Carter caught a pass from Kincade at Alcorn’s 18-yard line and set sail for the end zone. However, Alcorn defensive lineman Stacey Garner punched the ball out of Carter’s grasp before he crossed the goal line. Wide receiver Dominique Leake caught the ball in mid-air and scored with 7:25 left in the game.
The drama continued on the extra point attempt. Defensive end Ramonte Bell blocked the kick by Conte Abbubakkar, Grambling’s third-string kickerr. Bell scooped up the loose ball and nearly returned it for two points for Alcorn. Abbubakkar saved the play for Grambling by tripping Bell, which resulted in a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff but no points.
Alcorn got the ball back at the 50 yard line. But the Braves couldn’t take advantage of their field position, going three-and-out. That set the stage for Carter’s winning score.
Alcorn had an opportunity to at least tie the contest on its last possession of the game. The Braves took possession of the ball on their 12 with 1:18 remaining and no timeouts. Quarterback Lenorris Footman and Jalen Walker connected on a 35-yard diving sideline completion that gave Alcorn a first down at Grambling’s 33.
The G-Men stormed the field thinking they had won the game after Walker landed out-of-bounds as time expired. However, Alcorn got another play when officials ruled that Walker got out-of-bounds with one second remaining on the clock following a booth review.
Alcorn couldn’t capitalize on its new life. Footman’s Hail Mary pass into the end zone sailed out-of-bounds across the right sideline to end the game.
Alcorn was trying to become the first East Division team to register three straight wins in the championship and seemed well on the way to a three-peat in the early going. The Braves dominated the first half with Footman completing seven of 10 passes for 154 yards and De’ Lance Turner rushing for 116 yards. The duo enabled Alcorn to hold the ball for more than 21 minutes and kept Grambling’s high-octane offense off the field.
Footman scored on a 15-yard run in the first quarter and Turner had a 69-yard touchdown run with 10:44 remaining in the half to help the Braves to a surprising 17-0 advantage.
“Alcorn State showed why they were the two-time defending SWAC champions,’’ Fobbs said. “My hat is off to them. They are a heck of a program. They’ll do great things in the future. But this was our night.’